Solid State Battery Research Program Gets ARPA-E Grant

solid state battery research

The problem with writing stories about advances in battery technology is most of them focus on research that is going on in the laboratory. It often takes years for new techniques discovered in the cloistered confines of the lab to make it into production. That’s the way it is with solid state battery research today. Those of us who want to see electric cars become the norm get impatient. We want to see results now!

ARPA-E, which stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, is a small part of the US Department of Energy. It has just awarded a $3,000,000 grant to researchers at the Iowa State University to study the use of sodium instead of lithium in batteries. So-called solid state batteries offer the prospect of greater power storage density at significantly lower cost.

Iowa State research head Steve W Martin says: “When we look at ways to efficiently store energy from wind and solar sources, lithium based batteries are expensive and worldwide geological resources of lithium are actually quite limited. A sodium based battery, on the other hand, has the potential to store larger amounts of electrical energy at a significantly lower cost. And, nearly all countries have access to large amounts of sodium.” Martin and his team will collaborate with researchers at the University of Colorado, the University of Houston, Solid Power Inc, and Washington State University, according to CleanTechnica.

Great — better, cheaper batteries. Isn’t that what we all are waiting for? According to a report at Green Car Congress, “Martin’s new battery will use a solid anode, cathode and electrolyte separator. This construction will eliminate all of the flammable and reactive materials from the battery and make it safer. Martin’s group at Iowa State will develop the new solid electrolyte separator. Martin has been exploring new glass compositions with very high ionic conductivities for some time.

“A team led by Yan Yao at the University of Houston will create a new cathode for the battery. A team led by Sehee Lee at the University of Colorado Boulder will develop the new anode for the battery. Scott Beckman and Soumik Banerjee at Washington State University will lead a team using theoretical modeling techniques to optimize the construction and operation of the assembled battery. And Solid Power, led by Dr Josh Buettner-Garrett, will oversee the commercialization of the completed battery.”

Solid state batteries are all the rage, because they do away with liquid electrolytes that are an intrinsic part of all lithium ion batteries. it is those liquids that require elaborate cooling systems to prevent fires. Getting rid of them would not only boost battery performance but reduce the weight of the battery pack by eliminating complex cooling circuits. Perhaps the sodium based battery will replace the lithium ion battery eventually,  just as faster, smaller, cheaper processors disrupted the world of computers a generation ago.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.